Is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Communion With Rome?
The question of whether or not the Ethiopian orthodox church is in communion with Rome has been a topic of debate for many years. One side of the debate focuses on the breakaway alternate synod headed by Patriarch Abune Merkorios, and the other focuses on the relationship between Rome and Ethiopia.
Patriarch Abune Merkorios
Patriarch Abune Merkorios has served as the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church since 2007. He was appointed by the Derg regime as a member of the Shengo, the Ethiopian parliament, in 1986. He remained in this position until his enthronement as Patriarch in 2010. During the time of the EPRDF’s rule, the Patriarch was accused of closeness to the Derg regime.
Until the 1974 Marxist revolution, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the state religion. After the revolution, the church and state separated. Moreover, most of the church’s land was nationalized. This signalled the start of a campaign against all religious groups in the country.
His Holiness Abune Merkorios, who was exiled for 26 years, returned to Ethiopia on the invitation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He prayed for unity in the church and the return of his homeland.
During his early visits to the western world, Abune Paulos was met with protests and anger. Some even claimed that the Ethiopian Patriarch was an agent of the EPRDF government. The protests were not merely a reaction to a change in the political landscape, but also to Abune Paulos’ vocal support of the current regime.
The Ethiopian Church in communion with Rome was founded in the 4th century. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church under Emperor Ezana was named a bishop and had a role in evangelizing the Ethiopian people. He continued to work to establish indigenous churches among non-Egyptians. He has also built a hospital and two monasteries in the country.
Patriarch Abune Merkorios’ break-away alternate synod
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has split into two different synods. In 1991, both groups split into rivals, but in 2018 the two factions decided to merge once more. However, both sides have continued to recognize the leadership of the other, exiled synod, which is headed by Abune Paulos.
The Ethiopian regime deposed Patriarch Abune Merkorios in 1991, and installed Abune Paulos as the new Patriarch. This action prompted a Synod in exile in North America led by the deposed Patriarch and several Archbishops who supported him.
Abune Merkorios, also known as Father Zelebanos Fenta, grew up in a monastery in Ethiopia. At an early age, he began studying spiritual matters. He spent four years studying in the Gonj Tewodros monastery before returning to his monastery for seven more years. He eventually became the Archbishop of the province of Ogiden.
In contrast, the Abune Merkorios’ EOTC leadership was also under threat of government action. The EOTC was a hand-picked church in Ethiopia, so Abune Merkorios was a potential target for government action. He was safely escorted to Kenya.
While the EOTC has become an appendage of the Ethiopian regime, it is detested by the Orthodox community in the Diaspora and by followers of other faiths. The neutrality stance of the EOTC is meant to be a protest against the installation of a new Patriarch while the other is still alive. But EOTCs should not forget that unity among the EOTCs is in the best interests of the Orthodox Ethiopian Diaspora.
Patriarch Abune Merkorios’ relationship with rome
The relationship between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church has been troubled for centuries. Mengistu sought a pliant patriarch, so he brought the holy hermit Abune Teklahaimanot to the Patriarchal Throne. The Oriental Orthodox communion refused to recognize him as legitimate, and the Abune was later poisoned. During his tenure as patriarch, Abune Merkorios was not an early proponent of his return to the Throne, but was a key figure in machinations in Europe and America.
The relationship between Rome and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church began in the early fifth century. In 1534, Abune Merkorios met Martin Luther, who affirmed the Augsburg Confession as a “good creed.” The Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognized the Lutheran mass as identical to that of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Later, the Lutheran Churches extended full communion to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
In Ethiopia, Abune Merkorios’ relationship with Rome has been troubled. In the past, he has been a strong opponent of the Derg regime. His anti-communist stance led him to be exiled from his home country. However, in 1992, the Derg regime fell and the Patriarch was reinstated.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was split when a new government seized power in the country. Abune Merkorios’ opposition to the government’s decision to remove him led to a breakaway alternate synod. Despite the schism, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church continued to recognize Abune Paulos as Patriarch.